On February 7, 2018, National Endowment for the Arts Chairman Jane Chu approved more than $25 million in grants as part of the NEA’s first major funding announcement for fiscal year 2018. Included in this announcement is an Art Works grant of $40,000 to Open House New York for Spaces of Justice, a year-long series of tours and programs that will explore the relationship between architecture, urban design, and criminal justice in New York City. The Art Works category focuses on the creation of art that meets the highest standards of excellence, public engagement with diverse and excellent art, lifelong learning in the arts, and the strengthening of communities through the arts.

Spaces of Justice is the fourth installment of Open House New York’s Urban Systems Series, an ongoing project that explores how economic, environmental, and cultural shifts of the early 21st century are transforming the systems that will shape the future of New York. Previous series have explored the changing spaces of contemporary manufacturing; the network of production and distribution facilities that comprise the city’s food system; and, most recently, the possibilities for a zero waste New York.

Over the last two decades, New York City has seen its homicide rate fall 90 percent while its prison population has shrunk by more than half, transforming it into one of the safest big cities in the United States. In a moment of national support for new approaches to policing and incarceration, the City has a unique opportunity to radically rethink the design of its justice system at every level.

Scheduled to launch this spring, Spaces of Justice is a series of tours, lectures, and other public programs that will explore major questions about the architecture and infrastructure of the criminal justice system in New York City. What are the spaces of justice in New York today and how can they be better conceived to support a system that treats all who pass through them with dignity and respect? As the city considers a shift to smaller prisons, what improvements would this allow in incarceration and rehabilitation? How can urban design choices further reduce crime, especially in areas that continue to experience elevated rates of crime? By creating a public platform to examine these and other questions, Open House New York intends to open up the conversation about the relationship between the physical spaces in which justice is enacted and the outcomes they produce. 

“The choices we make about how to shape our justice system are fundamental to who we are as a community,” said Open House New York executive director Gregory Wessner. “This project invites New Yorkers to think more openly, and more critically, about the state of the city’s justice infrastructure, and to envision what a 21st-century criminal justice system might look like. We are enormously grateful to the National Endowment for the Arts for this grant, and for its support of Open House New York over the past fifteen years.”

For updates about Spaces of Justice, subscribe to Open House New York’s e-newsletter. For more information on projects included in the NEA grant announcement, visit arts.gov/news.

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Photo: Jannis Werner/Alamy Stock Photo